In the premiere issue of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®, Dave Carpenter got the lowdown on what not to do from avid homebrewer Lorena Evans.
It happens to all of us. You take your eyes off the boil kettle just long enough to weigh out the first hop addition only to turn around and find wort boiling over and down the side of the kettle. Trust me, you do this only once.
From wort-covered stoves to ceilings painted with beer, we’ve all suffered our share of homebrew disasters. Fortunately, it’s only (only!?) beer, and one of homebrewing’s many pleasures is the repeated opportunity to improve and learn. And even accomplished brewers aren’t immune to mistakes.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Lorena Evans, but if you’ve spent much time—any time, really—on HomeBrewTalk.com (HBT), chances are you’ve run across her posts. Yooper, as HBT regulars know her, is a moderator on the forums, a certified judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and a candidate for the governing committee of the American Homebrewers Association. She has even judged the final rounds of the National Homebrew Competition.
In short, Lorena knows what she is doing. So we asked her to share a few of her favorite fails with us.
With a background in baking, Lorena was accustomed to working with yeast. So when she brewed her first two batches of beer, she assumed that brewer’s yeast, like baker’s yeast, would be more active at warm temperatures and kept her fermentations at a balmy 80°F (27°C). After making what she calls “two abysmal batches” of homebrew, she learned that, when it comes to beer, warmer and faster are rarely better.
Lesson 1: Keep fermentation temperatures under control to make better beer.
Not only did her first beers fall victim to warm fermentations, but Lorena’s sanitation practices left something to be desired. Cooking and baking had taught her the importance of cleanliness, but when it comes to beer, clean isn’t enough. Consequently, those abysmal beers also suffered from some contamination issues.
Lesson 2: Good sanitation is essential if you want to make the best beer possible.
But Lorena’s beer kept getting better and better, and like many of us, she was soon hooked. She began making all-grain homebrew on her stovetop and invested in an immersion chiller. Once, Lorena tells us, she collected the chiller’s wastewater in her 10-gallon cooler for re-use in an aquarium. While checking a few messages online, she heard the soothing sound of a gurgling cascade. Upon returning to the kitchen, she discovered ankle-deep water making its way out of the kitchen, down the stairs, and into the basement.
Lesson 3a: You can’t fit fifty gallons of water in a 10-gallon cooler.
Lesson 3b: Pay attention! Brewing is neither difficult nor strenuous, but it is exacting.
Not all brew days are smooth, but with the right attitude and an open mind, our mistakes can be instructive, even beneficial. Just ask Lorena. With two homebrew-related floods to her name, her basement now enjoys a spotless, deep, down clean.
Share Your Brewing Mistake
We’ve all made them, and those fateful mistakes have taught us valuable lessons that we hope never to repeat. Do you have a particularly funny, interesting, or helpful homebrewing mistake that you’d like to share?